How Editing Enhances Our Writing: An Interview with Marisa Russell


As writers, we spend a lot of time stuck in our own projects. That’s why many of us will scramble at the chance to look at any piece of writing other than our own, whether it be a book for pleasure or helping someone out by critiquing their work.

Here at Novelty Revisions, we believe writing and revising go hand-in-hand. Part of the art of stringing words together is knowing how to reshape and improve what’s already been written, no matter how long it takes. As today’s NR guest will show you (though words, of course), learning how to edit is an essential part of learning how to best put your ideas into words.

Marisa Russell is a journalism student at Hofstra University. A life-long writer, she has seen firsthand how taking a leap and becoming an editor can change the way we write, and transform the way we view the writing process from beginning to end. 

Tell us about your writing experience.

I’ve been writing since I was able to pick up a pencil and form letters. I was always into writing stories, and when an opportunity to attend a journalism camp in NYC came along in high school, that’s when my writing took off. I was interviewing people on the streets of New York, and from that moment on I never stopped.

I interned at ABC 2 News in high school, where I got a ton of writing and interviewing experience for the web and T.V., but my broadcast writing career ended there. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve written for Her Campus Hofstra, The Chronicle [Hofstra’s newspaper], College Lifestyles™ [online magazine], and most recently, LinkedIn. My experiences have occurred over a variety of mediums, but the biggest thing is that I have years of experience under my belt.

Describe your editing experience.

My editing experience started a bit later than my writing. I started editing college application and scholarship essays for my boyfriend’s mom’s business in the fall of my freshman year. It was amazing to be able to help others achieve their goals by teaching writing skills.

From there, I became an editor at College Lifestyles™ in the summer of 2014, and I’ve been an editor ever since. The moment I started editing, I couldn’t stop. I spent the last year as [assistant] copy chief at my school newspaper and oddly enough, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I’m very type A and a nitpicky person, so editing is perfect for my stress level, weirdly enough.

What about your writing experience prepared you your editing roles?

I knew many different styles of writing, and I knew all of the AP style rules before I was even required to enforce them. Watching my growth as a writer also helped me teach others how to grow as well. It’s like being an employee before you get to be the boss… you always appreciate those on your team when you’ve been in their shoes before. I don’t think you should be allowed to be an editor without a tremendous amount of writing experience.

What has editing taught you about your own writing?

I’ve become a lot more careful with my writing because I’m an editor. It’s also taught me that I can write a grammatically correct sentence, but someone else may not like it simply because of their style. Everyone writes differently, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Being an editor causes you to analyze things for structure, readability and credibility, versus just “if it sounds/looks good.” So, I’d say I’ve become a lot more critical of how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying.

What has editing taught you about critiquing others’ work?

Every person you critique is totally different. It’s not just slight differences, but you sometimes have to change your entire mindset to properly edit someone else’s work. It’s also taught me that everyone takes criticism differently, and you have to adapt to that when you are trying to help someone improve their work. I can tell one writer to fix a sentence because it’s unclear and they understand what I’m saying, where if I told another that, they would find it insulting and not know what to do. I’ve learned that critique is all about balance, and learning the writer.

In what ways do you think all writers, despite their disciplines, can benefit from gaining editing experience?

No matter what field you work for, you will always be writing and editing. Even if it’s just an email or a company document, you will write every day for the rest of your life. Learning how to edit others’ work, and having that experience (in any capacity) will teach you how to work with others, how to critique your own work through a different lens and how to be successful. Even if it’s just editing your coworker’s research article or your child’s homework, editing is a tough skill to learn, and one that makes you a better person in the end to have.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as an editor?

Hmm, that’s a tough one honestly. I’ve learned that a nice cup of coffee and a comfortable bed make for the perfect way to edit articles, just kidding! I’ve really learned that patience, kindness and hard work go a long way. Despite if I’m feeling down or think I’m doing a bad job, those that I’ve helped or edited for always believe in and support me, and it’s because of those three things.

What’s the hardest thing about editing someone else’s work?

For me personally, it’s not changing people’s work for them. I’m like I said before, very type A and I like to have control over the situation, so in the beginning I thought changing things for someone would be the best way to go. But, over time, I learned that giving someone an example and guiding them in the right direction will save me [a lot] of time in the future. Helping someone learn versus doing it for them will help them remember the right way to do things in the future.

What’s the most rewarding?

Seeing the end product. Whether that’s an article, a college essay, an acceptance to a college or an award, seeing what my writers have gone on to achieve is absolutely amazing.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, and you’re looking for writing experience, try proofreading, copyediting or volunteering, interning or even working in an editorial setting. Having an outside perspective on the writing process can help you learn to more effectively identify weaknesses and flaws in your own writing.

The earlier you start, the more opportunities you’ll have to gain hands-on experience before entering the real world. No matter your stage of life, writing will always be a part of you. Use your skills to help not only yourself, but also someone else, discover a new kind of love for words.

Image courtesy of Marisa Russell.

The Difference Between a “Proofreader” and an Editor


I recently applied for a part-time job proofreading academic papers. It would not help me pay off my student loans any faster (sigh), and the position does not extend beyond turning on Word’s TrackChanges feature to make anonymous suggestions in a vibrant color of my choosing (pink is preferable, obviously).

The opportunity intrigued me, enough to spend three hours on a Sunday completing a test proof, for two reasons.

One, because I would not mind doing my own research and/or becoming a professor someday, both of which involve familiarity with academic writing style, format and the ability to critique in something other than red pen.

Two, I am, when I am not working or sleeping on trains or tossing and turning trying to come up with new topics to post here, an editor; sometimes the “art of proofreading” gets lost in the shuffle. I need balance. I need to exercise my hypersensitive grammar-correcting muscles.

If you’re not an editor already, you might not know the difference between someone who proofreads in their spare time and someone who bears the title of Editor on their bottom-of-the-wallet business cards (no judgment: I don’t even have any, and not because potential colleagues have taken them all). There is, in fact, a difference.

The biggest variance: it takes a degree in English and the ability to flip through a style guide to proofread a paper. It takes a lot more than that to be an editor.

A lot more.

A Proofreader Reads; an Editor Analyzes

This is not to say a proofreader doesn’t critique content for understanding and flow. I’ll keep using an academic paper as an example. If a paper doesn’t make sense to a random grammar guru, it won’t make sense to a professor or committee or another random specimen on the Internet.

Simply, an editor takes this process a step further by examining what, for example, an article is saying, what it means, what it means to the person writing it, and what it should mean to the audience it is intended for. This takes breaking a larger piece up into smaller parts (think of it in terms of cooking). A proofreader hovers on the surface of this process; an editor dives in headfirst, with no life jacket.

A Proofreader Makes Suggestions; an Editor Sets Goals

Something I struggled with when I first started out as an editor with College Lifestyles was giving consistent feedback to the same writers over an extended period of time. At that point I was hardly used to critiquing my roommate’s papers without ripping them apart insensibly, let alone helping someone improve their writing skills from week to week. An editor can’t just crank out a string of TrackChanges and expect that to make a difference on its own.

I am probably a bit obsessed with setting goals (yes, there used to be a Bucket List here; yes, it started getting a little personal and is now tucked away safely in a more secure location, insert sad violin music), and I probably drive my writers deeper into insanity by making them set their own, but being that motivator is what makes the change. It’s not in a proofreader’s job description to do that. There’s just not room. 

A Proofreader Keeps It Professional; an Editor Gets Personal

Read the rest of this section before you start freaking out. “Getting personal” does not imply breaking the barrier of a professional relationship between editor and writer. Working with people my age, sometimes it gets hard not to break down that wall, but for the sake of productivity, you have to keep it there.

By “getting personal,” I am of course referring to the art of seeing a piece as the product of someone else’s extended thought and effort. Through the eyes of a proofreader, a paper is a piece of academic thought written for academic minds to process. To an editor, a piece breathes. It has substance beyond black-and-white content. Because you’re bound to have even if only a slightly closer connection with a writer than a proofreader does with a client, you can, and should, recognize and highlight the traits of the writer that come alive in their work. This is beneificial for all sorts of reasons, which I’ll have to touch on in another post because I’m nearing PTL (post too long) status here. Sorry.

I’m promising here an upcoming post on how editing others’ work improves our own ability to write and critique ourselves. In the meantime, if you see an opportunity to edit—even if it’s just a friend saying, “Hey, can you look at this? It’s a mess”—grab that opportunity like it’s the only one you’ll ever have.

Your first “gig” doesn’t have to be paid or even official. As of this moment, I have only ever been paid to copyedit for a student paper. I have not been paid a cent for my work as en editor. Yet I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything vital to my future success as a professional (maybe?).

Get into the habit of moving beyond marking up a page with a pen, no matter how small the task.

Editing goes deeper than catching spelling and grammar mistakes. In my opinion, it is one of the toughest, most well-rounded, most rewarding jobs you can score as a young adult. Insert idea for another post here.

Stop this madness. Go edit something. Edit the heart and soul out of this post, if you want. Do it. Do it.

Do it.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.